Updated Sep 29, 2018 - Politics & Policy

The miscalculation haunting Trump, Kavanaugh

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Imagine if Brett Kavanaugh had offered his emotional, tearful, you-ruined-my-life opening speech to the Judiciary Committee — and then called for a quick FBI probe to clear his name and perhaps find the true assailant. He would have looked confident, humble, even a tad heroic, given the president who nominated him opposed the FBI probe. 

The big picture: He and Republicans had an epic failure of imagination. They were forced reluctantly and publicly into what should have been a fairly easy-to-anticipate moderate compromise: agree to a vote after a quick FBI probe. Instead of looking hungry for truth, Kavanaugh heads into the week looking fearful of findings. 

There's a reason for this miscalculation:

  • Republicans, from the earliest days of the allegations, were overly confident they could just jam this through, several people involved the process tell us. 
  • They thought he would be better defending himself — and that Dr. Ford would seem less credible. 
  • Republicans treated this like a bare-knuckles political fight. They calculated a Fox News appearance, a Trump endorsement, a headstrong Mitch McConnell, a fired-up base, a fast vote would hold the party together.
  • In the GOP’s defense, the strategy might have worked had Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) not changed his mind at the very last minute. 

In an interview posted this morning, Flake tells The Atlantic's McKay Coppins that his dramatic call for further FBI review came because he felt the Senate was "coming apart at the seams":

  • "I’m a conservative. He’s a conservative. I plan to support him unless they turn up something — and they might."
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